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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 8, 2019

UNITEDSTATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MARCUS JONES, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L. ELLIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Marcus Jones moves to reduce his sentence under § 404 of the First Step Act, Pub. L. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194, § 404 (2018). Because the Court finds Jones eligible for relief under the statute and that he has shown himself deserving of such relief, the Court, in its discretion, grants his motion and reduces his custodial sentence to 82 months. All other terms of his original sentence remain in effect.

         BACKGROUND

         On December 14, 2010, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Jones with conspiracy to knowingly and intentionally distribute and possess with intent to distribute mixtures containing in excess of 50 grams of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), and 846 (Count 1); knowingly distributing mixtures containing in excess of 50 grams of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) on four separate occasions (Counts 2, 3, 5, and 7); and knowingly and intentionally using a cellular telephone in furtherance of the conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b) (Counts 4, 6, and 8). Doc. 19. On September 27, 2011, Jones pleaded guilty to Count 1 of the indictment, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of cocaine base. Doc. 43. As part of the plea, Jones admitted he received at least 179.1 grams of cocaine base from his supplier and that he distributed this cocaine base to his customers. Id. at 3. Notably, Jones and the Government differed greatly in their assessment of the exact quantity of cocaine base involved in the offense of conviction: the Government's position was that Jones was accountable for at least 8.4 kilograms of cocaine base distributed during the course of the conspiracy, whereas Jones' position was that he was accountable for only179.1 grams that he admitted to as part of his plea. Id. at 5.

         On February 28, 2012, Judge Kocoras sentenced Jones to a term of 124 months, which was an 86-month downward departure from the low end of the sentencing guideline range of 210 to 262 months, and four months more than the mandatory minimum of 10 years. Doc. 56. The guideline range calculation in the presentence report began with a base offense level of 38, based on the quantity of 8.4 kilograms of cocaine base, then factored in a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, for a final offense level of 35. With a criminal history category of III, the presentence report calculated Jones' guideline range as 210 to 262 months. See Doc. 70 at 7. In 2016, Jones submitted a letter to the court arguing that the court should apply the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to his sentence. Doc. 64. In response, the Government argued that the Fair Sentencing Act did not apply to Jones based on the quantity of cocaine base, 8.4 kilograms, for which the court sentenced Jones. Doc. 67. Jones' attorney moved to withdraw later in 2016 and was granted leave to withdraw, effectively denying Jones' request for relief. Doc. 78-80.

         On May 29, 2019, Jones filed the present motion for a reduced sentence under Section 404 of the First Step Act. Jones requests that the Court reduce his 124-month sentence to a sentence of time served. Jones argues that his offense level today would be 33 not 35, which when combined with a criminal history category of III yields an advisory guideline range of 168 to 210 months. If the 86-month variance was applied to the low end of this guideline range, the resulting sentence would be 82 months, one month less than the 83 actual months Jones has already served, without counting the additional months gained under the current good time formula. The Government argues that Jones is not eligible for relief under the First Step Act, and that even if he is, given the 8.4 kilograms of cocaine base, he would still be subject to the 10-year mandatory minimum.

         ANALYSIS

         The First Step Act of 2018 makes the provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (2018). Section 404 of the First Step Act states in pertinent part:

(a) DEFINITION OF COVERED OFFENSE. In this section, the term “covered offense” means a violation of a Federal criminal statute, the statutory penalties for which were modified by section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-220; 124 Stat. 2372), that was committed before August 3, 2010.
(b) DEFENDANTS PREVIOUSLY SENTENCED. A court that imposed a sentence for a covered offense may, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the Government, or the court, impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-220; 124 Stat. 2372) were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.

Id. § 404. Under the First Step Act, a defendant who committed a violation before August 3, 2010, and whose exposure at sentencing would have been different under Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act's revised quantity thresholds for cocaine base may be entitled to a reduced sentence. Id. Relief under the First Step Act is discretionary. Id. § 404(c) (“Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a court to reduce any sentence pursuant to this section.”).

         I. Eligibility

         As an initial matter, because Jones committed his offense prior to August 3, 2010, Jones' violation satisfies the first requirement to be a “covered offense” under § 404(a) of the First Step Act. Id. § 404(a); Doc. 56 at 1. The parties disagree as to whether Jones' violation satisfies the second requirement, that the Fair Sentencing Act modified the statutory penalty for his violation. At the time Jones was convicted and sentenced, the statutory sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of cocaine base was ten years to life. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) (2008). The Fair Sentencing Act raised the amount of cocaine base that triggers that statutory sentence from 50 grams to 280 grams. Pub. L. No. 111-220 §§ 2-3, 124 Stat. 2372. For 50 grams of cocaine base, the statutory penalty after the Fair Sentencing Act is between 5 and 40-years' imprisonment. Id. Jones argues, therefore, that the Fair Sentencing Act modified the statutory penalty for his violation, which would satisfy the second requirement for his violation to be considered a “covered offense” under the First Step Act. The Government argues, however, that the Fair Sentencing Act did not modify the statutory penalty for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 8.4 kilograms of cocaine base, which would still be subject to a sentence of ten years to life. The disagreement, therefore, revolves around which quantity is relevant under the First Step Act: the quantity in the indictment or the quantity that formed the basis of Jones' sentencing guidelines calculations.

         The Government argues that the 50 grams charged in the indictment was an artificial quantity and simply represented the pertinent statutory threshold at the time. Doc. 90 at 6-7. The Government further argues that Congress' concern about the particular date of the violation shows its focus on the occurrence and actual conduct of the offense, and by logical ...


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